F1 2019 Review — Mechanical Music

Racing games have been and always will be the technical spotlight for any console. So much so, the genre has been a staple of console launches for years. Even throughout a console’s lifecycle, racing games act as a litmus test for pushing a console’s tech, resulting in some of the most beautiful games ever created. It just so happens there are a lot of great racing games out there as well. It’s a competitive space, and if you can’t stand out, it typically isn’t worth playing.

This brings me to F1 2019, the latest entry in the Formula 1 racing game franchise. I’m not an expert by any means, but F1 racing, in my eyes, is the fastest and most furious racing on the planet. Yet, F1 2019 lacks the characteristics of its real-life counterpart.

Gameplay in F1 2019 isn’t unlike any other modern racing game. You use the right trigger to accelerate, the left trigger to brake, and the left analog stick to steer. There are a lot of complexities to the racing once you dig a bit deeper, giving the impression that F1 2019 is intended as a sim. There are on-the-fly decisions you have to make to overtake the other racers on the track. This includes implementing DRS or ERS modes and using rich fuel mixes to get the edge on your opponents. It’s really interesting, to some degree, especially for someone who isn’t as familiar with the world of F1.

Despite some features that deviate it from the competition, F1 2019 doesn’t really feel all that unique. Clicking through a menu to switch modes doesn’t really feel intuitive and the racing itself just isn’t all that exciting. Granted, there were moments I legit fist pumped because I ended up winning a race I was definitely not supposed to. But, all in all, it lacks the sense of speed other racers like Forza, Project Cars, or Dirt have. Which is ironic since F1 is the pinnacle of speed.

Something I do really love about F1 2019 is the pre-race setup. I’m not just talking about tuning your car before the race. I mean the practice days and qualifying round portion of each major racing event. Almost like a preparation mode for certain facets of the race, each trial will test your racing ability in a number of ways. This includes tire-wear prevention, course recognition, and fuel efficiency.

After you complete each test, which can be simulated, you will enter the qualifying rounds to determine your starting position. At this point, it seems like the best option is to just put the pedal to the metal. Efficiency and duration isn’t really a factor during qualification rounds since positions are determined by each racer’s best lap time. It isn’t really revolutionary, but I like that I know what to expect when the championship is on the line.

During Career Mode, doing these practice sessions will earn you points to allocate into a skill tree to further improve your car. Each upgrade takes a few weeks to be added, so you don’t get the effects right away. Additionally, there is the chance that the upgrade will fail, and you have to pay for it again, albeit at a lower price. Failure seems to be caused by your relationship with your pit crew, but also seems pretty random, which can get annoying. Those also never really felt like I was getting the upper hand after they were implemented, so it didn’t seem to really matter.

F1 2019

That sentiment extends across much of F1 2019. The aforementioned upgrades, as well as the different on-the-fly modes never really felt like it made any significant changes to the gameplay. Granted, I was playing on whatever the default difficulty was, but there wasn’t a moment where I got an upgrade and thought, “Wow, this feels completely different and to my benefit.” Basically, as long as I listened to what the person on the headset said to me, followed the DRS button prompts, and used the balanced tuning option, I was successful.

I had mentioned a Career Mode earlier and how you can develop relationships with your pit crew in that mode. Let me explain how weird this mode is. You begin your career in Formula 2, a sort of developmental league for aspiring F1 racers, where you and your teammate, Lukas Weber, attempt to grab wins for your team by working together during the race. You also have a rival, Devon Butler, who is there to get under your skin and tear the two apart. It’s pretty campy, and honestly, something I wasn’t expecting. This feud continues throughout your F2 career where you’ll have post-race interviews with the press which affects your relationship with your team.

However, that F2 career eventually ends as you move up to F1. It also seems this “story-driven” take is also erased, focusing more on the simulation aspect of racing. It just seemed off that F1 2019 would introduce these characters only to separate you as if it never existed.

For those wanting to race online, there are plenty of modes, both for casual and hardcore racers, to enjoy. What I like about the online races is that it isn’t just picking a tuning option and racing. Online brings over many of the features from single-player, like the practice and qualification rounds, except your qualification time is put against other online racer’s times, making it more difficult to qualify. That being said, I found myself taking laps around the same track for about an hour and a half. In that sense, it has an arcade quality to it; I was always trying to beat my fastest time.

F1 2019 isn’t really all that spectacular. The gameplay is mostly what you’d expect with the potential of an exhilarating moment here and there, but it wouldn’t be the first game I’d look to for a racing simulation experience. That being said, it is enjoyable and there is plenty to do, especially for those looking for a new racing game to pick up.

The post F1 2019 Review — Mechanical Music by Michael Ruiz appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review — The Will to Continue On

I’ve always struggled to play games when I’ve had some sort of personal turmoil happening in my life. While a lot of people find the comfort of video games to be in how they allow them to escape the real world, for me, I just find it to be a hard medium to dedicate time to when I know that other areas of my life aren’t going well.

In the past few weeks that I have been playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I’ve been encountering this exact issue. For the latter portion of March and now a bit of April, I’ve been having a personal health scare that has left me stressed more than I have been in awhile. To make this clear before I go on any further, I’m completely fine. What has transpired isn’t life-threatening in the slightest and I’m in the process of getting myself fixed with whatever is wrong. Don’t worry.

I share this all up front not only to make it clear as to why this review is so late (I’m sorry) but to give you an idea of what my frame of mind has been while playing Sekiro over the past few weeks. Sekiro is a game about death first and foremost. Heck, it’s right there in the title with Shadows Die Twice. But at its core, like so many other FromSoftware titles, it’s a game about overcoming hardships, learning, and adapting to the situations you’ve been presented before continuing onward.

Over the past decade or so, FromSoftware has established itself as the premier developer in the realm of action games, and that title hasn’t been lost here with Sekiro. Much like the Souls games before it, Sekiro has a clear vision of how it wants you to approach it and quickly establishes a ruleset of how you are meant to play.

This is most clear in the combat of Sekiro, which is easily the game’s best element. Unlike the Souls games, Sekiro has you engaging in a more precise, dueling style of play that sees you often facing off one versus one with enemies that you come across. It’s much different from games like Bloodborne where you can run around with large two-handed weapons like Ludwig’s Holy Blade and bash foes over the head. No, Sekiro instead asks you to pick and choose your points of attack more so than ever before, but the reward for doing so is arguably greater than any past FromSoftware game.

Combat in Sekiro centers entirely around a system known as Posture. Rather than dealing direct damage to an enemy’s health bar with your katana strikes, you’ll instead be working to wear down their Posture bar before then dishing out an immediate killing blow — unless said enemy can withstand more than one of these strikes. I talked a bit about the Posture system in my previous piece with some of my early impressions from Sekiro, but this mechanic has only grown on me the more I have played.

What I love about this style of combat that is centered around this tug-of-war with Posture is that it constantly forces you to be the aggressor. Pressing the attack is something I was not used to coming into Sekiro. Past Souls games have taught me to cheese bosses at times more than it has taught me to actually “git gud.” With Sekiro though, it really feels like you have to learn the patterns of your enemies well enough to know both when you can strike and when you can defend. If you don’t stay on top of baddies as well, then their Posture bar will start to reset and you’ll have to grind them down all over again.

In typical FromSoftware fashion, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice‘s best moments come when you must implement what you’ve learned about combat into a boss fight. Boss fights have always been synonymous with FromSoftware and I think Sekiro might offer the studio’s best array of bosses ever. Not only are each of their designs and play styles so varied from one another, but each fight seems to teach you something new that you then need to carry forward with you through the remainder of the game. Whether that’s implementing your character’s prosthetic tools, learning how to parry more effectively, or just simply adapting your own play style on the fly, Sekiro is constantly throwing a wrench into what you think you know and forcing you to then overcome what it is presenting.

In a personal situation though where I was struggling to even commit to spending my free time on gaming, I think what I appreciated the most about Sekiro were its moments of elation and victory. If you’ve played a Souls game before, you’re likely very familiar with these instances; the times where you beat your head against a wall for so long only to then finally accomplish the task at hand and advance. While I was playing Sekiro, I sometimes found it difficult to focus on spending so much time dying to bosses, only to keep repeating the process and making no ground.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

You can get pretty antsy and nervous when you’re sitting around your apartment waiting for MRI results on your brain to come through. Even when I was doing battle with bosses like Lady Butterfly or Genichiro Ashina, instead of trying to pinpoint their attack patterns and strikes, I was miles away focused on things outside of the world of Sekiro. It wasn’t that I wasn’t engaged on what was happening in the game, but more that I was just struggling to even focus.

Because of this though, it made those moments where I did lock in and focus on hack-and-slashing these enemies to death feel that much better. The reward and sense of achievement I felt when I did finally beat a difficult boss gave me a much-needed boost in morale during a time where I really needed it. There’s a lot of reasons to like video games, but overcoming these struggles in Sekiro helped remind me of why I like to play games in the first place. This war of attrition and unwillingness to give up in the face of something that seems greater than you while playing Sekiro really helped change my frame of mind during every area other of my life over these past weeks. Sekiro showed up just when I needed it most.

When I wasn’t just defeating bosses though after multiple hour struggles, I also fell in love with the world of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and the way you can get around it. Verticality plays a large role in Sekiro with your character, the One-Armed Wolf, being able to utilize his grappling hook prosthetic arm to vault around to various locations. Not only can these newfound vantage points be used to stealthily take out foes, a welcome addition to Sekiro, but it also just allows you to rethink your approach to combat as a whole.

I also appreciated how much Sekiro encourages you to go off the beaten path. FromSoftware games have always done a good job of rewarding you if you explore, but I found Sekiro to be even more rewarding than in the past. Some of my favorite moments of the game came about when I would randomly stumble into a new area only to be greeted by some sort of monstrosity that immediately murdered me. Sure, there was a bit of frustration that would stem from my death but also a sense of wonder at, “What did I just come across?”

For all the praise that FromSoftware has received in the realm of creating great combat and boss encounters in their games over the years, I really do think the studio’s best quality is how it creates these vast, interconnected worlds. The original Dark Souls does a phenomenal job of this, but I think that same design where locations are interwoven in a novel way is on full display here in Sekiro and it’s maybe the studio’s best effort yet. Plus, the locales on display are just really stylized and enjoyable to look at.

There are also a few new additions to Sekiro that I really appreciated this time around. For starters, the advent of an actual narrative in the game was more welcome than I thought it’d be. While it’s no BioShock or The Last of Us in terms of storytelling prowess, it was nice to actually have a direct conflict that I understood more than having all of the lore and world-building done through item descriptions.

I also have to say that after some initial hesitation, I ended up enjoying the character progression in Sekiro as well. Even though there are a whole lot of different items you need to collect to level up various skills, abilities, health bars, and so on, the way in which you steadily level up over the course of the experience without becoming too overpowered keeps things in check. As much as I love the Souls games, you really can just cheese the progression system by endlessly grinding until you’re so powerful that bosses and other enemies become a breeze to defeat. That never really happens in Sekiro, which is nice because it means you then need actual skill to overcome some of the game’s harder challenges.

If there’s really any one aspect of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice that I have a bone to pick with, it’d be the camera. While the camera in the Souls games have been troublesome in the past, I found what was on display here in Sekiro to be worse than ever before. I think a lot of this stems from the 1v1 nature of many encounters you’re faced with in the game; because you’re focused on single targets so often, the way the camera moves behind you can get awkward and clunky at times. Specifically, when you’re pressed up too close to a wall, you’ll immediately lose track of your character and be forced to stop locking on to your foe and get away from the wall. I died to a boss more than once in Sekiro purely because I couldn’t see what was happening at a given time. This game is already hard enough as it is and I didn’t need the difficulty to be amplified even further because of a troublesome camera.

From top to bottom, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is another winner for FromSoftware, a studio that I truly believe is the best in the entire video game industry right now. To continue to deliver time and time again with such high-quality products like this is rarely seen, and the studio deserves endless praise for such. Even though the shift in formula from past Souls ventures was questionable at first, FromSoftware has proven with Sekiro that whatever they might decide to do in the future will likely continue to be excellent.

More than anything though, Sekiro is a game that I am endlessly thankful for having spent time with the past few weeks. The moments of elation that I have had playing through Sekiro were unmatched not only in gaming but in my everyday life. It provided a sense of joy that comforted me and made me optimistic when I needed it most. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is a game I will continue to look back at fondly for years to come because of this.

The post Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Review — The Will to Continue On by Logan Moore appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review — No Objections Here

I remember the first time I played a Phoenix Wright game. It was back during a time where my local mall had both a GameStop and an EB Games. My pal Alex had been recommending this game where you play as a lawyer for quite some time. My parents had just reneged on letting me buy the Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection for my PS2, so I decided to take my cash and buy this lawyer game instead. 

I ended up getting the second game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All,  for some reason. Despite being the second game, it worked out quite well in my favor. The first trial, which is more or less a tutorial for the grander experience, involves everyone’s favorite spiky-haired defense attorney getting bonked on the head and suffering short term amnesia. As I played the game, I fell in love with the cast, writing, and core mechanic of catching people in a lie. I immediately followed up and bought the first game and then the third. 

Cut to eight years later and that core trilogy of games (along with Apollo Justice) still strikes a chord with me now, just as much as it did back then. Capcom has remastered the trilogy for the umpteenth time with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy. Bringing the visuals to the modern era with streamlined controls helps reaffirms that the courtroom drama is still relevant today and should not be missed by fans, both new and old.

The biggest upgrade for this remaster is by far the visuals. It’s the crux of the entire package. It’s so important that our preview of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy was solely focused on comparing the graphics to previous ports. Bringing what originally started as a Game Boy Advance game and ushering it into the era of high definition demands a complete overhaul and Capcom completely delivered. The art is clean and crisp, with smooth lines and excellent expression. Phoenix, Miles, Maya, and the rest of the ensemble cast has never looked this good. 

While the art may have been entirely redone, the animation is identical. Characters have their signature flipbook-style animations mashed with over-the-top anime expressions. Every time that Larry Butz’s eyes well up, I can’t help but chortle at the goofy look on his face. It’s nice to see the spirit intact as the art made the leap to the modern era.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy

One element of the art that did not age gracefully was the 3D elements, specifically in the fifth chapter of the first game. This chapter was introduced in the Nintendo DS port of the game to take advantage of the system’s capabilities and features. Players could dust fingerprints and blow away the dust with the microphone and rotate objects in 3D to find clues. There was even use of a security tape to rewind and examine 3D video. While scaled up to an appropriate resolution, the 3D assets did not get the same love that the 2D ones did. It would have been swell to see these parts redone in a proper way to help those segments not feel older than the rest of the game. 

Being a series of interactive visual novels, the UI is critical to the game’s enjoyment. It can either be a barrier to entry or a gateway to soaking in the game’s intended experience. When originally ported to the Nintendo DS, the dual-screen form factor of the platform was a match made in heaven for Phoenix Wright; keeping the dialogue and characters on the top, while keeping the UI and Court Record (item menu) on the touch screen. It was intuitive and kept the gameplay clean. It also helped translate the series to mobile phones, since touch is the only way to interact with smartphones today. 

Being ported to PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC meant redesigning the way players would present evidence and investigate crime scenes. Controls make perfect sense on a gamepad. When investigating or pointing out a critical contradiction in an image, a magnifying glass appears onscreen and acts as a cursor. When an object can be interacted with, the magnifying glass turns yellow, taking the guesswork out of what can and cannot be investigated when looking at the environment’s art. If you’ve already looked at an object, the magnifying glass dons a check mark when hovering over said item. 

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy

You can access the Court Record at any time with a press of the R button (I played on Switch) and scroll through the evidence. Pressing the pause button brings up the settings and the save menu. The settings are about what you’d hope for in an interactive visual novel like this. You can control the volume of sound effects and music, the text skip speed, and effects like rumble or screen shake. You can also choose the language, which currently is only English and Japanese. There will be a post-launch patch that includes support for German, French, Korean, Chinese and Simplified Chinese by this summer.

I do wish besides toggling the auto-skip speed that there was a general text speed option. The text is faster than previous versions of the game, but sometimes the text felt a tad too slow, which can drag on the overall enjoyment since the entire experience is centered around reading. On the other end of the text spectrum, I also wish there was a dialogue history, like in the Persona games. Sometimes you accidentally hit the A button and miss the text box altogether. It’s just one little quality of life feature that could have made for an easier experience.

A delightful part about playing on the Switch is that the game still fully supports touch. You could pop off the Joy-cons and play with just the screen, like a small tablet. You have to poke the on-screen menu in the bottom right-hand corner, but it totally works. It’s a cool way to play and it’s nice to see touch is still supported all these years later. Overall, Capcom has successfully designed an effective and simple to use UI that works great on any display you play on.

The superb music in the trilogy also got a slight upgrade. It sounds much fuller than previous ports, but the music, on the whole, is identical. I played with my Switch plugged into my TV’s surround sound system and the tense music during a cross-examination with “Objections” flying back and forth was as exhilarating as it has ever been. Capcom seems to have wisely not tried to fix what was not broken when it comes to the bumping soundtrack in these Ace Attorney games.

In regards to the actual games themselves, their stories hold up incredibly well. Being removed from them since I originally played them in high school (roughly eight years ago), the twists and turns that the games’ stories take you on is still a wild ride. I was frequently surprised at how much I had forgotten, almost getting to experience them all anew once more. Sometimes though, my brain would remember what critical piece of evidence was going to be used to change the tide of the case early on and I’d just be waiting to use it. 

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy

Other times I’d generally be stumped. Some of the case logic is stretched out a tad too much, making the right piece of evidence on the right statement harder to infer than it ought to be. There is no hint or assistance system built into this remaster. I had to turn to an online guide more than once to make sure I was on the right track or just what piece of evidence to present. Sometimes I was thinking too far ahead in the case trying to present that key info sooner than the narrative wanted me too and other times I was just stumped. I think it could have been nice to see some sort of hint system integrated this time around for those truly tricky cases, but my phone is never far away to begin with.

The only other thing I wish this collection included was Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. It may not be a “Phoenix Wright” game per se, but it is a sequel to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations and I remember it fondly. Hopefully, this collection paves the way for porting over the rest of the franchise, just like Capcom has done on mobile. I would also hope it’ll pave the way for a brand new adventure too, but we’ll have to wait and see what Capcom is willing to do. With the publisher being on fire lately, I’d hope that my favorite attorney could get some love too.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a solid example of remastering done well. Capcom has successfully brought the game into the modern era without goofing up the core gameplay experience. It’s a wonderful pack of games with engaging stories, a timeless cast of characters, and a simple premise. For the sweet price of $29.99, it is well worth the investment for both new and old fans. Whether you’ve been defending the helpless for years or are fresh off the bar exam, the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy is a collection you don’t want to miss.

The post Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy Review — No Objections Here by Max Roberts appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

The Division 2 Review — We Can Walk Our Road Together

There is something about playing a loot shooter that has practical design sensibilities that are just refreshing. Especially, in my case, coming off Anthem, those feelings are increased tenfold, The Division 2 is a “games as a service” done right. Despite some bugs and one very frustrating mission, Ubisoft’s follow-up is a worthy sequel with a ton of content right out of the box.

Set several months after the original game, The Division 2 starts with your created character defending a settlement from bandits. As you assume control of the settlement, the SHD (Strategic Homeland Division) network–the network controlling the unit’s comms and tech–has unexpectedly shut down. You promptly receive a distress call with coordinates that lead to Washington, D.C.

Turns out the Green Poison virus wasn’t contained within New York and has spread to the nation’s capital. However, that isn’t the only thing that has taken control. Three rebel groups, the Hyenas, True Sons, and Outcasts have assumed control of D.C. and the Division needs to help take it back.

The story of The Division 2–which is usually the driving force for most games–feels as inconsequential as spilling a drop of water on my 12-year-old pair of jeans. There was hardly a moment I knew the reasoning behind my actions, nor did I care. All I knew was I had to do something to help the Division take back D.C. and this mission would help me accomplish that. Oh, and there would be about a small town’s worth of people trying to stop you, no matter how minor the matter.

A lot of my problems with The Division 2’s story stem from the mission structure and the subpar dialogue that goes along with it. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t repetitive. Every mission mostly follows a pattern: Help the SHD gain access to something they need, eradicate the threat, and get new loot. The dialogue behind these missions does not stand out in any way, shape, or form. It was just there for the sake of moving things along.

The Division 2

That notion carries over to basically the entire story. It really feels like it is there to just move you along a path rather than attempt to tell something interesting given the political setting they have housed The Division 2 within. It would seem like a waste, considering its political setting, if the game just wasn’t so darn good.

When it was announced the SHD would be heading to the capital, I didn’t really see how Ubisoft would get creative with level design beyond having a firefight at the White House or the Lincoln Memorial. Boy, I was wrong.

Not every mission was a unique set piece but each one felt cleverly designed to challenge the player while still feeling fair. There are a select few missions that do have great environments, namely the museum locations as well as the beginning of the subway mission. I was genuinely surprised at just how creative the developers were with some of these locales. From the Vietnam exhibit to the Mars set, many of the game’s environments were pleasant surprises and a clear deviation from the original’s redundant snowy streets and office buildings.

However, on a graphical level, there is nothing to get too excited about it. The Division 2 isn’t unlike anything we’ve seen in the past few years. In some ways, it’s worse considering the terrible texture pop-in that occurs even while playing on an Xbox One X. It doesn’t take you out of the experience by any means, but it isn’t some technical achievement, either.

An integral part of loot shooters is, well, the loot and The Division 2 has a whole lot of it. The loot itself isn’t supposed to contain crazy sci-fi weapons we’ve seen in other loot shooters since it is grounded in reality. This is all fine though since it all fits in this alternate reality of the U.S.

It was also nice to see that every mission throughout The Division 2 gave me better loot. The feeling of getting a purple or gold colored piece of gear at a low level is so satisfying. That is a key ingredient to a loot-driven game and The Division 2 hands out new and better loot consistently.

The only complaint I have about the loot is the actual variety of weapons and armor. While there is a ton of loot to grab, a lot of it is just the same piece of gear with different stats. Throughout the first thirty hours of play, I’ve received dozens of M16s or knee pads that look exactly the same as its inferior version.

Speaking of weapons, they control nicely too. It isn’t as tight as I would like, but for PvE scenarios, it works as intended. The only weapon type I thought were underwhelming were shotguns. It just felt like I was shooting a potato out of a canon. It didn’t feel like that powerful close quarters weapon I was looking for. I would have a better chance of just modding my sniper rifle to not have a magnifying scope and shooting oncoming enemies down in one hit.

The Division 2

The modding itself is actually one of the more impressive quality-of-life improvements in The Division 2. Just about every weapon you acquire can be modded. However, instead of weapon mods taking up an inventory slot, it actually acts more like a skill and can be used on multiple weapons at the same time. So, if the weapon allows it, you can use your one 4x scope on all of your equipped weapons. It’s a nice touch that gets rid of some of the hassles of inventory management.

These mods can be unlocked the same way you unlock perks for your character which can be found at the base of operations. In addition to some of the mods, this is where you can expend your SHD points which can be acquired from completing missions or exploring Washington, D.C. These perks will include increased inventory space to a boost experience from performing headshot kills.

On the surface, some of these perks seem inconsequential but as you progress, they all become very useful. Namely, perks like increased armor packs and grenades are incredibly helpful, especially if you are playing alone. You’ll also earn more and more loot as you go taking up most of your inventory space. The perks aren’t game changers but they certainly will help you out as you progress.

Another part of your arsenal includes eight skills you can choose to use: pulse, seeker mine, turret, hive, chem launcher, drone, firefly, and shield. As you complete missions, you will earn skill points which can be used to unlock skills or skill mods; unlocking the skill only takes one skill point while unlocking a mod will take five skill points. Each skill, which you can equip two at one time, has around three to four skill mods that work very differently from one another.

I would say the skills you choose directly influence your playstyle more than your weapons. In a way, the skills are the base of your playstyle and the guns complement that. For example, I ended up favoring the hive and the turret because I preferred a more long range style of combat. The hive can act as an AoE that distracts oncoming enemies while the turret can finish off closer enemies while I pick off enemies at long range.

I also favored a more offensive strategy because I played much of The Division 2 by myself. When I did matchmake, it made me want to try out some of the more defensive or healing skills. The problem with that is I’ve only found eight skill points total. Since an additional mod for a skill costs five points and I favored an offensive style, I purchased all offensive mods. It was a bit disheartening that, at some point, I would have access to all the mods but that didn’t necessarily deter me from playing in any way.

The moment-to-moment loop may be repetitive but it’s also ridiculously fun, satisfying, and rewarding. The gameplay is not unlike the original; it is still a third-person cover shooter with special abilities and difficult enemy encounters. It plays well but it doesn’t go above and beyond what the original did. However, it is how they fixed the problems from the previous entry that make The Division 2 a worthy sequel.

One of the most prevalent problems from the first was the bullet-sponge nature of the enemies. This meant that the challenge was less about strategy and more about outlasting your opponent. This time around, enemies go down rather quickly. Even armored enemies aren’t too much of a hassle. It’s not until you get into late and end game content where enemies get “spongier” but even then, it never felt unfair.

The Division 2 also has smarter enemy AI, leading to situations that require a more strategic approach to each encounter. Enemies would find ways to flank me, affecting both my choice in abilities and how and when I would use them. Instead of either taking out an armored enemy first or last depending on the situation, I found myself taking out certain enemy types that I found problematic like grenadiers or melee enemies. This meant using my abilities effectively and positioning myself in the most advantageous spot. Rather than being a glorified, high budget shooting gallery, The Division 2 made me think about how I tackle each situation.

If it hasn’t been hinted enough yet, all of this leads to a rather difficult experience, especially alone. Personally, I played every mission alone up until level 15. Once I got to the latter half, enemy encounters became too overwhelming for just one person. It can totally be done, but it would be so difficult and frustrating.

As such, matchmaking is available but only for main missions and Strongholds which are essentially harder main missions with better rewards. From what I found, you cannot matchmake for side missions which is kind of a bummer. There were moments when it would have been nice to even just have one more person in my group. The side missions are easy enough to finish by yourself, but it’ll require a little more strategery and time to finish.

The naming convention for these missions I found rather silly, especially considering the circumstances I found myself in while playing The Division 2. Using terms like “main mission” and “side mission” usually indicate some sort of priority level, right? A main mission seems like something that must be done in order to move the story along while side missions are there to maybe garner a bit more to experience to reach that next level. That is certainly not the case here.

Every mission you receive is a priority because of how leveling works in this game. There are cases where you are beyond just one side mission away from getting to the next main mission. Essentially, you must do just about every side mission in order to hit max level. It’s either that or do Projects, a new feature added to The Division 2.

The Division 2

Introduced early in the story, Projects allow you to garner experience while you do the main and side missions. They are sets of lists with specific tasks like “donate x number of gloves” or “take out three elite True Sons.” They aren’t too difficult and, typically, you wouldn’t really have to think about doing them since you’ll probably finish the tasks each Project asks of you just by doing missions.

I use the word typically because, during my playthrough, four of the side missions bugged. Even if I went to the area where they started, the mission would not start. When I look at the missions in the “Progress” menu, it shows that I am zero meters away from completing all four missions, which is clearly incorrect. Because of this, Projects were a necessity for me to level up. I had to finish these in order to reach the suggested level for the last few missions which was grueling.

It’s not that Projects are hard by any means, but they feel like a chore, especially when the game bugs out on you. It was frustrating to have to, for all intents and purposes, look at a check list and just go through each one to level up and it was never fun. If you played the Tomb trials in Anthem, it was basically like doing that but a little less frustrating.

Since I’m on the subject of bugs, despite being one of the most content complete games of the service I have played in recent memory, The Division 2 does have its fair share of bugs. Along with the side mission bug I mentioned, there were times when my special abilities wouldn’t work (which has now been fixed), certain instances where I wouldn’t queue up, and others where I would get booted from the game entirely. I know this may not be indicative of everyone’s playthrough, but it just so happens to occur during mine and it was infuriating — especially when I was getting booted from Stronghold missions. Luckily, I was able to load back into the exact same party but any time I died, which happens quite a bit because some missions are challenging, I would get booted.

To clarify a little more, there is one level 28 Stronghold which is arguably the worst mission in the game. The very last encounter asks  you to blow up two fuel tanks and a couple of parts on a boat, all while a seemingly infinite amount of powerful enemies rush in to take you out.

THe Division 2

This was the one and only time I felt like the design of a mission was truly against the player. The fuel tanks take an excessive number of bullets to destroy; there are two turrets that you can use to destroy them which makes that portion of the encounter much quicker. However, it never points you in that direction to use them. The infinite spawn was also infuriating as it just seemed like a cheap implementation to make the level harder.

That one mission almost soured my entire experience of The Division 2. On a real level, I wanted to quit right there. I am happy I didn’t though. Although that mission was one of the last missions for the story portion–which takes roughly 30 hours to complete–there are enough new things introduced in the endgame that will extend your playthrough even longer.

The endgame for The Division 2 introduces three entirely new things to the game: The Black Tusk enemy faction, invaded missions, and specialization weapons. Well, one of those is entirely new while the other two are different takes on things you’ve already seen.

The Black Tusk faction and the invaded missions are essentially hard mode versions of the enemies and missions you’ve already experienced. The invaded missions are variants of missions you’ve already played. They aren’t the same as they do mix up the enemy encounters in a variety of ways and slightly change the look and lighting. It’s not an entirely new experience but it does change things up enough to want you to keep playing.

The one new aspect that The Division 2 offers in the endgame is a specialization weapon. When you finish the story, you’ll pick one of three specializations–a sniper rifle, crossbow, or grenade launcher–that will give you more of an advantage against the Black Tusks. Each weapon has its own skill tree which will improve that weapon’s effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of your skills and other weaponry.

For example, I decided to use the crossbow specialization. This weapon is incredibly effective against just about any enemy since the bolts explode a few seconds after impact. However, ammo is much more limited and will randomly drop off enemies throughout a mission. After you finish a mission, you’ll receive points to use on the weapon’s skill tree. This skill tree allowed me to get the healing variant of the seeker mine, added armor, and increased damage to shotguns.

The endgame gives you more of a reason to spend hours in The Division 2’s interesting world. The story behind it all is still so bland but it’s still fun to explore and shoot in a dilapidated Washington, D.C. even 40 or 50 hours in.

There are also PvP components but they’re nothing out of the ordinary. The Dark Zone is back allowing you to team up with other agents to get some gear in contaminated areas on the map. I do like that The Division 2 eases you in to each DZ area–there are three total–with an introductory mission that pins you against AI, teaches you the ropes, and gives you the lay of the land. The DZ also has its own leveling system depending on how you perform. Unlike the traditional leveling system, you can actually lose levels if you perform poorly.

Personally, the DZ wasn’t for me in the first game and it isn’t for me in The Division 2. I like that there is a cooperative mode for my friends and I to convene and grab some good loot, but it all feels aimless. With the campaign mode, I’m constantly getting better gear, leveling, and have a goal, even if that goal is pretty benign.

There is also the new Conflict mode which brings traditional PvP to The Division 2. The gunplay works well in a PvE setting but transitioning that to PvP just isn’t fun. The controls aren’t responsive enough for it to feel any good. Again, Conflict mode would be fun to join with a couple of friends and play a few rounds but if I wanted to play a competitive multiplayer mode, I think I’ll play something else.

The Division 2 is better than it has any right to be. Considering how well everything works with one another, it is hard to not overstate how much this game does right. This is what “games as a service” games are supposed to be. Sure, it has the launch hiccups of its predecessors and that one mission that I loathed, but it is loaded with so much content that is both fun and challenging. The Division 2 is the litmus test for loot shooters from here on out and I will surely be playing more as its free DLC starts rolling out.

The post The Division 2 Review — We Can Walk Our Road Together by Michael Ruiz appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

Razer Kraken Headset Review — A Smart Pick On a Budget

Long gone are the days when the budget gamer could settle for low-cost, disposable headsets as their only option for chatting in multiplayer titles. By quickly checking Amazon for cheap gaming headsets you can find a range of products easily below $50 with RGB, noise canceling, and cross-console compatibility.  But so many of these are the hardware version of shovelware — cheap knockoffs that break after a month of light use. Where are the quality headphones that will go the mile for under $100. The newly announced Razer Kraken would like to have a word with you…

As a quick backdrop, for all of you unaware the Razer Kraken is part of Razer’s new push to make quality peripherals revamped at a lower price point. While these lower price points come at some hardware costs, we recently reviewed the Razer Basilisk Essential gaming mouse and thought it was “adding value in all the right ways.” With this in mind, the Kraken is a value version of the Razer Kraken Tournament Edition — another piece of hardware we reviewed and enjoyed overall — or a revamped version of the Razer Kraken Pro V2. Now, let’s take a deep-dive into the pros and cons of the revamp.

Razer by and large shows off it knows how to make cuts where they count–in other words, where it will be least noticed by the consumer. Absolutely nothing was removed from the Razer Kraken Pro V2, making it all around better at the same cost. Even better, the design team has added in the full-ear coverage with cooling gel that was introduced with the Tournament Edition. Playing games over extended periods of time won’t lead to the ear sweating and discomfort that are oh-so-common for every other competitor on the market.

On top of that, the Razer Kraken brings over major functionality not available for the Kraken Pro V2: cross-platform compatibility. You can use this headset as easily on the PC as you can on your PS4 and Nintendo Switch. In a world where I’m always looking for more bang for my buck, this is always on my short-list of needs when it comes to headsets.

Aside from that, most everything maintains the same for the Razer Kraken with its traditional line. The headset is lightweight and heavily cushioned, thanks to the Bauxite Aluminum Frame. It’s one of my lighter headsets, coming in at 0.71 lbs (or 322 grams) and playing with it for long sessions is a breeze. The microphone is retractable, making it impossible to lose when you are looking to use these for music or a fashionable outfit pop. On top of that, the mic has (limited) cardioid functionality that will definitely help block out omnidirectional sound — players won’t hear (as much) of what is happening in your background.

Speaking briefly to the sound quality, you aren’t going to mistake these for studio headphones — and if you are someone who cares about sound quality, making the jump to the Kraken Tournaments THX Spatial Audio build for the extra $20 is a no-brainer. But for playing games, this got me where I needed to be. When testing out the Razer Blade Stealth 13 and Apex Legends, I was able to hear my enemies and surrounding gunfire perfectly to keep me competitive.

And let’s chat super quickly about noise cancelling. I have been scared no less than three times while writing this review by people casually walking around in my office. While it isn’t a listed feature, the over-ear padding is terrific at muffling noise in even some of the loudes environments. So chock that up to a win for the Razer Kraken.

Realistically, the only major complaint that I have comes from one sacrifice in the build quality: the in-line control. While I have no problem with having this included in the hardware (versus a USB dongle), this is the only part of the Razer Kraken that feels “cheap.” The analog control wheel barely has any resistance, and every time I put these on and moved, my shirt would manage to lower the volume. As both an animated gamer and someone who enjoys using these as headphones, I got to a point where I taped down the analog wheel to keep it at a constant level. So yeah… not perfect.

At the end of the day, this still isn’t bumping our recommendation for the Elite Atlas by Turtle Beach, which is available for $10 more. But I would easily say that Razer has created the best set of headphones under $80 — and it comes from a brand that consumers already know is associated with quality builds.

The Razer Kraken may make an occasional misstep in adapting the Razer Kraken Tournament edition, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that it hits all the high notes seamlessly. Excellent build quality, sound quality, and design pave the way for this budget-minded gaming headset, and you shouldn’t ignore it in 2019.

The post Razer Kraken Headset Review — A Smart Pick On a Budget by Lou Contaldi appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

Switchblade Is Like a Twisted Metal MOBA, But Really Needs an Audience

Switchblade is a crazy beast. Relatively novice studio Lucid Games is attempting to take on the MOBA market at large, which is filled with some of the heaviest hitters in the industry. Even better, they are driving that momentum with a unique take–instead of a top-down League of Legends format, we see vehicle action more akin to Twisted Metal or Rocket League. While the game is absolutely worth booting up, especially to MOBA newcomers, there is one thing that it is lacking: an audience.

For anyone new to the MOBA scene, the genre focuses on large-scale arenas where teams of five or six charge head on to slay some mobs (smaller CPU creatures), level their character, claim objectives, and knock out opponents. While the Battle Royale scene has overtaken the genre meta from MOBAs, they still maintain a huge following. Some of the most prominent tournaments held yearly are all MOBA based, and at any given time Mixer and Twitch are dominated by players.

That being said, it’s worth noting that almost every MOBA looks very similar to the outside observer. They are typically third-person action based titles which deviate when it comes to metas and abilities. Frankly, it is an impossible market to break into in 2019. Unless, of course, you go for a hail mary and make something out of left field. Similar to how Tetris 99 is redefining what it means to be a Battle Royale game, Switchblade is attempting to offer a different perspective in what a MOBA game is.

While many things are the same between a Dota 2 and Switchblade, there are some major differences — the most significant of which being the fact that everything is a battle car. No more wizards, heroes, or gods — you are swapping out heroes for something more like Sweet Tooth. Truth be told, that alone makes the game far more approachable compared to other more dominating MOBAs. Thanks to headway made by arcadey battle-car games like Rocket League, it is much easier to convince my friends to pick up this game and get them to understand the rules.

Of course, the utilization of vehicles isn’t just cosmetic. Thanks to the newfound mobility, we get to add some speed to a MOBA, even if it is only visual. Some cars and tanks are faster than others, so you have to weigh your options of the 17 available vehicles. Do you want one that can pack a punch or one that can peel out of a messy situation with gusto? Thankfully, players can choose two in the beginning to interchange. With this in mind, the five-player pools always have some nice diversity with ten cars in the rotation.

Other than that, the game is by far and large similar enough to the MOBA scene where it isn’t going to make a huge difference. It has its own style of guardians, towers, and “jungle” objectives where the game will be instantly recognizable to fans of the genre. On the other end, everything is so well-explained and streamlined in the tutorial that beginners will not need to worry about getting lost in deeper mechanics.

This is by no means a comprehensive review of the game — it is still in Early Access, is limited to one map with one mode, and is still tweaking bugs. The game is by no means rough, but there is a healthy development life ahead of it. That is, if they can manage to work out its most significant issue.

And what is that predicament? At the end of the day, the biggest issue in the game is a fanbase, or lack there-of. Since the game launched on Steam, it has an all-time peak of 70 concurrent players — which doesn’t include a more healthy fanbase on the PS4. The Reddit community is equally tiny, with little to no action on the forum:

Switchblade Reddit PC PS4

This leads to its own forms of difficulties. Without a steady fanbase, it is a pretty tall order to have new development on modes or maps that will split up the player base. Matchmaking is not nearly as quick as an Apex Legends or Fortnite game, and often you will get auto-filled with some bots. But overlooking those hindrances, the title itself is a fun experiment and likely the only MOBA I’m willing to try out with my non-MOBA playing friends.

If you are someone who has been digging the Rocket League scene and are looking for something slightly more strategic but with the same pick-up-and-play flair, go ahead and dive into Switchblade. By all means, it scratches a similar itch and is a good gateway drug to the genre at large. Still, it’s long term appeal may be at risk if the player count continues to dwindle.

Switchblade is a free-to-play MOBA currently available on PC and PS4; feel free to follow the game’s official Twitter along with developer Lucid Games.

The post Switchblade Is Like a Twisted Metal MOBA, But Really Needs an Audience by Lou Contaldi appeared first on DualShockers.

Source link

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 Review — An Air Ball That Should Be a Slam Dunk

There are two things you’ll notice upon starting NBA 2K Playgrounds 2, the new arcade basketball title from developer Saber Interactive and publisher 2K Sports. First, you’ll see a user agreement that, for some reason, feels like reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Second, immediately after agreeing to the game’s terms of service, you’ll notice the game’s Player Packs.

Yes, before you make your first slam dunk, NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 introduces you to its lawless ecosystem of in-game currency, Player Packs, and informs you that you can insert real-life currency to get more of each.

Allow me to be blunt for a second—writing about microtransactions in 2018 is inherently dull. Microtransactions have been the cornerstone of a (now decades old) cultural debate about how video games should be made, monetized, and distributed. Every possible position on the matter has been beaten to death by a subset of sensationalist bloggers, self-righteous YouTubers, and others of their ilk. One of the most prevalent myths about microtransactions, even from the most well-meaning pundits, is that they’re a necessity in contemporary game design. Often folks will bandy on about how microtransactions are a necessary evil, a counter-measure introduced to combat the cost of AAA, bleeding-edge game development.

Yes, this is true to a degree. At the very least it highlights an uncomfortable truth; current bleeding-edge, AAA design tactics make game designers work too long to create games that are too big, which enables companies to sell experience boosters so other people that work too long can actually play them. It’s impossible to view any of these branches in a vacuum—they are all hopelessly and ontologically connected.

Yet, Playgrounds 2 upends the myth that microtransactions are a necessary evil entirely. There’s no way that the spiritual successor to NBA Jam costs so much money to make that its microtransactions are a necessity. In fact, I was initially shocked when I found out that the game retails for $29.99–and that was before I knew the extent to which the game’s content was hidden behind tedious grinding. The seemingly nuanced argument that microtransactions help foot the bill for modern game design seems foolish when confronted with the reality of games like Playgrounds 2.

If it seems like I can’t divorce my thoughts on microtransactions from the game’s gameplay, it’s because the game doesn’t allow me to. If you’re reading this review and wish I talked about the game’s mechanics before jumping on a soapbox, know that I wish I could too. However, every time I booted up my Xbox One, eager to find some redeeming factor in Playgrounds 2, I was left frustrated, and honestly, kind of mad.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

Allow me to give you an example. Upon starting Playgrounds 2 I played a few exhibition games to learn the game’s controls. In this regard, the game is relatively solid. When on the offensive, players have the opportunity to shoot, slam dunk, pass, or set their teammate up for an alley-oop. When on the defensive, players can block shots, push their opponents, and attempt to steal the ball. When attempting a shot, a meter will appear asking players to time the shot perfectly. Every character in the game contains different stats, meaning, every character’s meter is different. Allen Iverson’s meter for three-point shots leaves a large margin for error, thus, making it incredibly easy for him to sink three-pointers. Shaq, on the other hand, has an incredibly small meter for three-point shots, making them not a viable option.

NBA 2K Playgrounds 2

While this in-game system of checks and balances gives the game nuance, it also makes the game a tedious grind. You see, upon starting the game, players are only given two characters from each team. The rest of the players can be found in Player Packs or bought using baller bucks, the game’s in-game currency. Here’s the rub–these players cost a lot of baller bucks; the average player costs around 10,000 baller bucks and a superstar player like LeBron James costs 25,000 baller bucks. For context, my first hour of gameplay netted me a whopping 3,000 baller bucks.

Speaking candidly, the two players from each team that Playgrounds 2 gives you at the beginning of the game aren’t the best players. Diving into the game’s NBA Season mode I chose the Knicks because I’m a New Yorker and I love being miserable. However, neither of the two Knicks starters that the game providers can make a three-point shot to save their lives. This means that their skill-set is very limited to driving the ball into the paint or trying to dunk on opponents. Since all of the game’s variety and nuance is hidden behind grinding (or worse, a paywall) playing Playgrounds 2 started to feel like a chore.

This is a shame because underneath Playgrounds 2‘s questionable business practices is the framework of a fun game. Playgrounds 2, in true arcade style, introduces a bunch of wacky gameplay mechanics that work to keep the tradition of 2v2 arcade basketball alive. Players can earn power-ups that make them super-powered, earn extra points by following on-screen cues, end up with a frozen basket, and more.

NBA Playgrounds 2

Despite the obvious missteps in how Playgrounds 2’s content is distributed, there’s no denying that the game has a lot to offer. The game has four hundred characters, online play, couch co-op, a Three-Point shootout mode, and ten different basketball courts. The game’s officially-licensed NBA players work to make Playgrounds 2 more visceral–that is, is if you can afford to grind for them.

In this regard, folks that don’t mind shelling out extra money to unlock all of the game’s characters or have the time to grind will find a lot to enjoy in Playgrounds 2. If you have the drive (or the time) to grind in Playgrounds 2 as if it were a mid-90’s JRPG, the game has plenty of redeeming qualities. The game’s 2v2 nature makes couch co-op a competitive godsend for basketball fanatics and old-school NBA Jam players alike. The controls are solid, the dynamics are fluid, and the game’s promise of mayhem-infused basketball is ultimately delivered. The sheer amount of players that NBA Playgrounds 2 allows players to unlock is ultimately impressive while the game’s different stages help to keep things fresh. If your will to play a genuinely solid, well-crafted arcade-basketball title won’t be weakened by the prospect of dealing with seemingly egregious business practices, Playgrounds 2 is the game for you.

It’s worth noting that you can unlock all of the characters in the game for $9.99. I’m fully aware of that; however, it doesn’t change any of my thoughts on Playgrounds 2. The way that this game tries to empty out your pockets is not accidental– it is clear and calculated. Above all, I feel bad for the hardworking developers at Saber Interactive that had to sit by while their game was turned into a piggy bank by 2K Sports. While there’s no definitive proof that Playgrounds 2 was any different before 2K Sports bought the game’s publishing rights a few months ago, I would personally feel foolish to consider it.

When it’s all said and done, Playgrounds 2 provides a somewhat enjoyable experience that’s not worth its headache. If you want a quick and easy, arcade-style way to play basketball with your friends, you should just go to your local arcade with a fistful of quarters and play NBA Jam. Trust me, even though you have to feed the cabinet money after each game, you’ll still feel less exploited.

Source link

Xbox One X Review — Feel True Power

Microsoft is on the verge of a new console release, and no, it’s not a jump into the next generation. Instead what we have here is a super-charged mid-cycle refresh known as the Xbox One X. With its release, the “X” cements itself as the new top-shelf option within the Xbox One family and, for that matter, home console gaming as a whole.

More importantly, the “X” is aimed at the console gamer who seeks a “no compromise” and “true 4K” gaming experience — but that luxury comes at almost double the price of its existing One ‘S’ sibling without checking many more boxes.

So who is the Xbox One X for? Hopefully, this review will help figure that out.

The History of X

Like any purchasing decisions, to understand where you’re going, it’s good to know where you’ve been. In the case of Microsoft and the Xbox brand, we need to go back about 17 years to the unveiling of the original Xbox. Back then, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates hit the stage at CES 2001 and touted the cutting edge nature of their first entry into the console market, the Xbox.

The original Xbox was the first console to ship with a hard disk drive, was powered by Intel and NVIDIA, and ready for the “upcoming” standard of high definition resolutions. It was a forward-thinking piece of hardware, and was all about the horsepower it brought to the table for video game developers.

Fast forward to 2005, when Microsoft had a follow up on the horizon: the Xbox 360, which would become the company’s most successful console to date. It transformed what we came to expect of a “game console” as an all-encompassing entertainment platform, seamlessly merging games with other forms of entertainment — be it Netflix, YouTube, or anything in-between.

That’s not to say the Xbox 360 didn’t have its own struggles. Like any jump in technology, the device also hit bumps along the way, for instance the dreaded “Red Ring of Death” — and does anyone remember the HD DVD add-on? But even that wasn’t enough to dethrone it as the primary gaming device for many (if not most) during that console generation.

Microsoft and the Xbox team were willing to take risks towards a vision in hopes of taking over the primary HDMI port on the most important screen in your home. A mere 17 years later, Xbox One X (with all of its bells and whistles) is the culmination of that vision.

But what is that vision? In many ways, it is a decisive belief that raw processing power and high-end specifications will dictate the future of gaming. By now, whether you’re a core gamer or not, you’ve probably heard about the Xbox One X and how Microsoft is touting it as the “world’s most powerful console” with a heavy emphasis on “true 4K gaming.”

The Box

The brand new Microsoft device touts six teraflops of computing power and a whopping 12GB of GDDR5 RAM at 326GB/s. With that kind of muscle under the hood, the Xbox One X places itself firmly in a spot between its current high-end console competitor (the PlayStation 4 Pro) and what some would consider a mid-to-high tier gaming PC.

While size doesn’t matter to everyone, the Xbox One X also happens to be the smallest console Microsoft has ever made. The Xbox One S that came before it was 40% smaller than the VCR-like monstrosity of the original Xbox One that shipped in 2013, and the Xbox One X fits nicely within that footprint.

Speaking of looks, the Xbox One X features a matte black finish on a monolithic slab of plastic that doesn’t call too much attention to itself — especially when compared to the Nintendo Switch’s neon Joy-Con controllers or the over-sized PlayStation 4 Pro. But when you realize how much power and features are packed into its small frame, you have to admire the engineering that took place here with the Xbox One X.

Everything else on the exterior (ports-wise) remains unchanged from the “S” model. In other words, the machine still features three USB ports (one in the front, two in the rear), one gigabit Ethernet port, one Optical Out port, and HDMI In (for Cable or Satellite), and an HDMI Out to your TV. More interesting than what does appear is the fact they are able to space out those components, and still fit them within the size of the case.


Xbox One X Enhancements

For those that don’t know the “X” isn’t the console maker’s first foray into 4K. That honor belongs to the Xbox One S, which introduced 4K Blu-Ray disc playback as well as 4K upscaling for certain titles. However, this time around, Microsoft is introducing true native 4K display to the mainstream gaming audience with the Xbox One X. This places Microsoft in a familiar spot: once again at the forefront of a new format, just like the adoption of HDTVs that took place 17 years ago.

With Xbox One X, the team at Microsoft is going to market and brand titles on the system with three distinctive icons: 4K Ultra HD, HDR, and Xbox One X-Enhanced. Let’s go over what each of these mean.

Games that offer 4K Ultra HD will mean that the title features a 4K frame buffer. Whether it’s native 4K or using some kind of “Faux-K” rendering technique (like checkerboard rendering or dynamic resolution), any titles featuring this insignia will push the resolution to 2160p, if your display can support it.

Meanwhile, in the 2017 gaming scene HDR is pretty self-explanatory: games with this icon on the box will support the HDR10 standard. When enabled, this feature (even more than resolution) is the key differentiator visually for most games. HDR provides a wider color palette that you just could not see before in high definition; however, this feature is not exclusive to the Xbox One X. Gamers who enjoy the Xbox One S will also benefit from HDR games, and it should be mentioned that it’s also supported by both the basic PS4 and PS4 Pro.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

As of my first draft of this review (October 29th, 2017), the number of enhanced games for the Xbox One X — both older and upcoming — is currently at 150 titles. For those counting, that is at least equal — if not more — to the current list of PlayStation 4 Pro-enhanced titles. Of course, “enhancements” is a general term and can mean various things for different games: some titles may see improved load times, while others get unlocked frame rates or newly-added textures.

“Xbox One X-Enhanced” is for games that have had their developers put in the extra time and effort to maximize titles. This, in turn, makes enhanced titles run better on the console thanks to the improved specs. People put in the work to get those six teraflops… um… flopping, or whatever it is that they do.

Big first-party titles like Forza Motorsport 7 and Gears of War 4 have these enhancements coming into play through software updates. Some third-party titles, like Middle-earth: Shadow of War, will feature this special treatment as well. In that specific case, players can expect 4K, HDR, and a consistent 30 frames-per-second at the highest quality version available (outside of high-end PCs) for Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

Talking Games

It’s time to talk games but, before we do, let’s address the 500 lb. gorilla in the room head-on, because it’s poisoned video game comment sections everywhere: the idea that the Xbox One “has no games.”

This narrative that “Xbox One has no games” just isn’t true. Whether or not Xbox’s first-party lineup is your personal cup of tea is something you can certainly debate, but you cannot deny that most of the games — which obviously include third-party titles — are more than readily available for the entire Xbox One lineup.

While we all love to lord over exclusive games and what people can’t play on their other plastic box, the vast majority of games coming out and selling in top-chart positions are multi-platform releases. In that respect, people shouldn’t define the boxes solely by their niche market of content — Xbox isn’t solely comprised of HaloCuphead, and Forza, just like PlayStation isn’t limited to Uncharted, Persona, and Gran Turismo.

OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

As I attended game preview events in 2017, I made sure I asked developers if they’d be going out of their way to add in a “performance mode” upgrade to their upcoming or existing titles. Most said the usual “nothing to announce at this time” as to not make a commitment one-way or another. However, Microsoft answered this question with the materials they sent in with the One X hardware: not only do newer titles (and those committing to Xbox One X) updates benefit from the under-the-hood improvements, but existing games (both from this gen and Backwards Compatible titles) will be enhanced by the console without any additional work from the developer.

According to Microsoft, this is possible because of the system’s 12GB of GDDR5 Ram with speeds of 326GB per second. On top of that, loading times will also see improvements from the 50 percent faster hard disk drive. As I mentioned, these enhancements are all happening at the system level, with no additional updates or work needed from the developers.

I was able to see this all in action when I fired up Gears of War 2 and Halo 3, which are now nine and ten years old, respectively, and it gave me a better idea of what the added horsepower meant to the standard, non-enhanced titles. In short, the games loaded faster, there were no more notable textures popping in, and framerates of each title were rock solid. Jumping between Gears of War 2 and Gears of War 4, I was surprised to see how consistent the overall experience was. Obviously, Gears of War 4 is running at 4K with very obvious higher-quality assets; but Gears of War 2 didn’t feel like a nine-year-old experience when comparing the two. Through the Xbox One X, what was old is made new again.

The 1080p Experience

With so much focus on the “4K” buzzword, you would think that only existing 4K TV owners or prospective buyers that would benefit from the Xbox One X. After testing it on both, I need to issue a correction. A more accurate assessment would be that those buyers would probably benefit the most — principally because they’d likely also be benefiting from the HDR enhancements as well.

However, owners of 1080p TVs (and that’s the majority of HDTV owners) would enjoy the benefits of the system’s higher quality assets super-sampled down to their respective resolutions, even without the bells and whistles of 4K visuals and all that the Xbox One X provides.

I was able to test this with Gears of War 4 on a 1080p TV while swapping back and forth between the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X. What I instantly saw was the difference in aliasing/jagged edges. When playing on the Xbox One S, the game’s characters in motion appeared to an almost outline-like set of rigid lines. Meanwhile, on the Xbox One X, this grid was completely non-existent. Other notable standouts were the environmental textures and assets. When slowing down to look around and take in the details, you quickly realize that the Xbox One S displayed a softer, hazier image overall when compared to the Xbox One X.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

Gears of War 4 running on Xbox One S on a 1080p TV.

After testing the 4K-to-1080p supersampling, I switched on the performance mode on the Gears of War 4 campaign. While it’s not displaying at 4K, it still uses higher resolution textures than the vanilla version on the Xbox One S. More importantly, because of the fluidity of its 60fps framerate, it looks like a completely different game. In this case, playing the Xbox One X on a 1080p screen felt like an overall better experience than what is currently available on the original Xbox One or Xbox One S.

It’s worth noting that this difference was much more noticeable in some games than others. A game like Gears of War 4 performed noticeably better than Forza Motorsport 7 simply because of the nature of the latter title. While Forza Motorsport 7 on the Xbox One S featured a softer image overall when compared to the Xbox One X when played on a 1080p display, you would have to pause the action and take screenshots to really analyze and compare the differences. Otherwise, in motion the differences were mostly negligible.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

Gears of War 4 running on Xbox One X on a 1080p TV.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of this review I could not compare recently-released titles like Assassin’s Creed Origins or Middle-earth: Shadow of War in a similar fashion, as their respective updates (with One X enhancements) don’t release until after this review goes live. However, with both of those titles getting 4K assets, I think it’s safe to assume a very similar outcome to what I experienced with Gears of War 4.

One very important differentiator about the way the Xbox One X handles supersampling compared to the PS4 Pro, is that — like the Backwards Compatibility enhancements — the feature is achieved at the system level. Meanwhile, on PlayStation 4 Pro, it takes actual work and proactive updates from the developers to implement. As a PS4 Pro owner myself, this is currently one of my frustrations that has me recommending the standard version of that console to would-be buyers, when asked.

The Missing X Factor

The Xbox One X has two key points working against it that place it more in the “niche product” category than the “must-have device” that Microsoft is hoping audiences will respond to.

Essentially, Microsoft is in a competition with itself due to how solid the Xbox One S is at a budget price. The Xbox One X and Xbox One S are running an identical system UI; they both support the same suite of streaming apps; they both feature a 4K Blu-Ray player and support the HDR10 standard. For those who take their home theaters extra seriously, they support the same video and audio codecs.

Most importantly for consumers, you can often find the Xbox One S for half (sometimes even less than half) the price of the Xbox One X. To put things in perspective, the Xbox One S console I picked up for comparison in this review only cost $189 at Costco, and it came with a game packed-in.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

Then there’s the dreaded FOMO factor, otherwise known as “fear of missing out.” This not only goes against the Xbox One X but the Xbox One family of devices in general this generation. For those out of the loop, since 2013 Microsoft has been fighting an uphill battle against their PlayStation counterparts. Microsoft began the current generation with a focus on TV and the (now defunct) Kinect sensor, and gamers weren’t having it.

It’s an issue that’s plagued the platform since it launched in 2013, with many early adopters having moved on to the PlayStation ecosystem due to Microsoft’s fumbled launch. This eventually led to PlayStation amassing a sell-through rate that is tens of millions of units higher than that of the Xbox One. With that grab of its market share, there was a migration of players who jumped ship from Xbox Live over to the PlayStation Network.

In a little over five years time, I’ve heard the online gaming conversation shift from “what’s your Gamertag?” to “what’s your PSN username?” During the heyday of the Xbox 360, it was assumed you were on Xbox Live: that’s just not the case anymore as the PS4 has become the dominant console platform.

But therein lies one of Xbox’s biggest hurdle. With many gamers eating lunch with PlayStation in their ecosystem, will the Xbox One X’s sheer power be enough to draw back since-jaded fans? The answer will likely come with third-party and exclusive support, with Microsoft needing to take an aggressive stance against the powerhouse that is PlayStation.

Wrap Up

The Xbox One X is the definitive way to play multi-platform games on console, whether or not developers go out of their way to put enchantments in place. With that said, as gaming has become more and more social and developers have been focusing on online experiences, it begs the question: will my friends also be making the switch to the Xbox One X?

The Xbox One X’s direct competitor is Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro, and while Sony’s console can be had for around $100 less, it’s missing a key component that makes it come up short of its 4K ambitions: a 4K Blu-Ray drive. When you add not just the inclusion of 4K Blu-Ray but also 40% more overall horsepower, the Xbox One X stands alone as the king of the hill in the console spec war. It may not have some key exclusives from other platforms, but Microsoft hopes that it can make up for it by having the most popular games in the world look the very best on Xbox One X.

Xbox One X Review -- Feel True Power

When I outlined how I wanted to approach the end of this review, I initially wanted to divide it into different parts: one for existing Xbox players, one for new players, and one for 4K TV owners. The reality is that this doesn’t work because at the end of the day, everyone is either a current 4K TV owner or they will become one when they purchase their next TV (in 2017, it’s estimated that 40% or more of all TVs sold will be 4K).

If you’re looking to just dip your toes into the Xbox ecosystem, you are all cleared to go with the Xbox One S model. If you have a 4K TV or not, if you’re heavily invested in another ecosystem, you can still enjoy the Xbox experience with the Xbox One S and do so within an impulse-buy price range. However, if you’re a multi-platform gamer and the type of consumer who doesn’t mind paying extra for a premium experience — one that will by default play and look better not just on the TV you currently own, but will also look amazing on the next TV you purchase  — the Xbox One X gets a ‘Buy’ recommendation from us.

Microsoft is hoping that just like back in 2001 “the power of X” can get gamers excited about cutting edge technology driving their console games. And while the Xbox One X might not fly off store shelves, it’s at least bringing back much needed attention to the brand and all of the other incentives that come from the Xbox One family of devices and services.

Editor’s Note: As mentioned above, the Xbox One X provided by Microsoft, along with 20 downloadable games to test the hardware with. Along with the software, the package also included subscriptions to Netflix, Spotify, Dolby Atmos, Xbox Live Gold, and Xbox Games Pass, all ranging from one to three month subscriptions.

During our review period, Gears of War 4, Killer Instinct, and Super Lucky’s Tale had received their 4K HDR updates. DualShockers has played both Assassins Creed Origins and Middle-earth: Shadow of War on Xbox One X hardware in pre-release iterations with Xbox One X enhancements in place at various events in 2017.

Source link